I'm in the middle of a bunch of really great modern classics of the fantasy and sci fi persuasion that I'm enjoying very thoroughly, but somehow I can't stop picking up lightweight YA stuff and whipping through it in the background. This week's installment of Sharon Off Track is the upcoming One of Us Is Lying, by Karen M. McManus, and a hat tip to Netgalley for the advance copy for review.
It starts out all Breakfast Club, with five very different kids in detention, then takes a twist toward (according to the blurb) Pretty Little Liars, with one of them dead and the other four suspected of his murder. The police are pretty sure they conspired to do it.
But here's the thing: all four are first person POV characters. We spend time in each of their heads--including during the incident--so the only way for one of them to have done it is for them to be actively lying in their narration of the story.
But...there's no framework for their accounts--these aren't diaries or confessions or anything. They're straight narrative which would make that kind of lie really cheap, a cheating form of unreliable narrator. Which leaves us with--who did it?
If I sound intrigued by this book, I completely was, maybe more than it deserved. It is a straight-up high school story whose drama takes place mostly in the halls and classrooms (and teenagers' bedrooms and family rooms, plus the police station). This is usually not my jam. And it's a straight-up whodunit, so if I was expecting anything, it was really trashy pleasure.
But I ended up intrigued by the story. There were a ton of secondary characters, all very easy to keep straight. All four characters had friends and love interests and families at one level of involvement or another. There were secrets--SO many secrets; the victim ran a gossip blog and had a lot of enemies.
But there was something so much more human about this story than the description offers. This book contained not one but TWO sets of fiercely loving sisters who support each other. There was a cathartic breakup, and one that just seemed sad. There were loyal friends and partly loyal friends and crappy friends and crappy friends who are maybe also evil, and there are adults who do not have it together (and, of course, bungling police--I mean, that's just a detective story inevitability, right?). There are loving parents and indifferent parents and absent parents and parents who are trying but going about it all wrong and those who have been wrong but will maybe make it right. Guys, there was so much uplift of the human spirit in this book, right beside the salacious gossip!
When it comes to the end--no spoilers--I'm torn. On one level, it was very satisfying--the information was all there but not pointing right at it. As a mystery ending, it was very good. On the level of humanity, on which the book was so surprisingly successful, it was a little weaker--more soap opera and less human condition. I would love to discuss the ending with someone and its implications, but it's not necessary--it's the ending the story needed.
And that's what this comes down to; you've got a readable book that was so compelling that I was explaining the plot to my husband and he was trying to figure out whodunit with me. That's a success story if I ever heard one.